Diagnosing true virtue? Remote scenarios, warranted virtue attributions, and virtuous medical practice

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Immanuel Kant argues in the Foundations that remote scenarios are diagnostic of genuine virtue. When agents commonly thought to have a particular virtue fail to exhibit that virtue in an extreme situation, he argues, they do not truly have the virtue at all, and our propensities to fail in such ways indicate that true virtue might never have existed. Kant’s suggestion that failure to show, say, courage in extraordinary circumstances necessarily silences one’s claim to have genuine courage seems to rely on an implausibly demanding standard for warranted virtue attributions. In contrast to this approach, some philosophers—such as Robert Adams and John Doris—have argued for probabilistic accounts of warranted virtue attributions. But despite the initial plausibility of such accounts, I argue that a sole reliance on probabilistic approaches is inadequate, as they are insufficiently sensitive to considerations of credit and fault, which emerge when agents have developed various insurance strategies and protective capacities against their responding poorly to particular eventualities. I also argue that medical graduates should develop the sorts of virtuous dispositions necessary to protect patient welfare against various countervailing influences (even where such influences might be encountered only rarely), and that repeated failures to uphold the proper goals of medicine in emergency scenarios might indeed be diagnostic of whether an individual practitioner does have the relevant medical virtue. In closing, I consider the dispositions involved in friendship. I seek to develop a principled way of determining when remote scenarios can be illuminating of genuine friendship and genuine virtue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-96
Number of pages12
JournalTheoretical Medicine and Bioethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Friendship
  • Kant
  • Medical virtues
  • Milgram experiments
  • Moral luck
  • Situationism
  • Virtue attribution
  • Virtue ethics
  • Remote scenarios and warranted virtue attributions

    Oakley, J., 1 Jan 2017, Virtue's Reasons: New Essays on Virtue, Character, and Reasons. Birondo, N. & Braun, S. S. (eds.). New York NY USA: Routledge, p. 32-48 17 p. (Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory).

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